Today's Dallas Morning News reports, "State’s top criminal court says trial courts can’t force death row inmates to take medication," by Todd J. Gillman.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that trial courts lack the authority to order involuntary medication to restore competency for execution. The Supreme Court has ruled that condemned inmates must understand what death means and why the state wants to kill them before an execution can be carried out.
The court did not address whether forcibly medicating someone so he can be executed violates the U.S. Constitution. But the Staley case highlights a longstanding debate about the appropriateness of restoring someone’s mental health only to kill him.
“It’s time for us to recognize that it’s not civilized to forcibly medicate someone to execute them,” said John Stickels, Staley’s appellate attorney. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Without the drugs, Staley would be mentally incompetent and would thus linger on death row with no prospect of execution.
“A criminal defendant should not be able to avoid a sentence because he refuses to take his medication,” said Chuck Mallin, chief of the appellate division for Tarrant County. “The court should have the authority to enforce its own judgment.”
Mallin said he was disappointed that the Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t address the constitutional question, which has been bouncing around state courts across the country for years.
“Had they addressed the constitutional issue we could have taken the case up … to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Mallin said prosecutors may ask for a rehearing. “We’re going to consider every option,” he said.
The issue is a difficult one for both doctors and lawyers, said Texas Tech law professor Brian Shannon, who specializes in criminal law and the mentally ill. For example, forced medication is allowed to make a defendant competent enough to participate in his own trial.
Earlier coverage of Steven Staley's case and yesterday's CCA ruling begins at the link. Related posts are in the competency category index.
The Supreme Court established standards to assess whether severely mentally ill inmates are competent to be executed in the 1986 case, Ford v. Wainwright; more via Oyez. The Court revisited the issue in its 2007 ruling in Panetti v. Quarterman, also via Oyez.